Book review: Frugal Innovation

frugal innovation

MoE contributor Tracy Walmsley reads Frugal Innovation.

Frugal Innovation grew out of the term Jugaad, literally translating from Hindi as ‘hack’, and is in essence the practice of doing more with less.

Frugal Innovation defines an agile, bottom-up approach to big business innovation, in a way that is presented as a powerful alternative to typical Western company practice. In an age of widespread austerity, this concept could not be more timely. The book’s authors Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu, are both experts in this field – Radjou won the 2013 Thinkers50 Innovation Award and Prabhu is a Professor of Marketing at the University of Cambridge. Both have experience consulting for large corporations, and many of their ex-clients share professional insights. The book is aimed at business managers (in some chapters the authors go as far as providing recommendations for managers), but I felt that much of the book would be readily accessible to those who were new to the subject.

Frugal Innovation bkcover

Frugal Innovation, as a concept, is defined as having five principles, and is laid out in as many chapters, supported by seven case studies. The authors swiftly move the reader through sophisticated ideas including the complicity of the “consumer” and the complexity in shifting consumer behaviour. The language is positive and surges forward with the promise of opportunity – the advent of the “prosumer” (someone who consumes and produces media) and the interaction with “makers” and “social tinkerers”. There is much to explore for anyone interested in design, manufacture, behavioural science and people-powered innovation.

Although the book has a strong business focus, Frugal Innovation contains a clear call for companies to address widespread concerns regarding our environment and its resources.

“The world consumes 1.3 times more than it can replenish,” I read. “Given current rates, by 2030, we would require two planets.”

Frugal innovation, in other words, is not a ‘nice to-do’ for businesses, but a must-do. Future business strategy must enable a movement to a new economic paradigm – in which sustainability is the driver of economic value, as opposed to a wheel carrying corporate social responsibility. Incidentally, many of the case studies in the book have an automotive leaning; Tata, Renault Nissan, and then later we see Local Motors emerge as an example of distributed manufacture.

I would have liked more within the chapter on “Fostering a Frugal Culture” – it felt like a footnote. The key point appeared to be that you have to work with culture, rather than trying to change it. Yet from this, I was interested to hear more about ideas that had worked naturally, the success stories and a greater dissection of the kind of cultures that had embraced frugal innovation.

Why read? 

I would read this if you simply want to shake your ideas up on what innovation is, means and what the current reality looks like.

Tracy Walmsley is a learning and development professional interested in how creative ideas can be embraced and applied.

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